In the 1920s and 30s, a Sicilian immigrant named Rosario Candela shaped Park Avenue — one of America’s most coveted thoroughfares.
Few people deserve more credit for the uniformity and pristine beauty of the Upper East Side’s stretch of Park Avenue than architect Rosario Candela. Born in Sicily in 1890, Candela came to the U.S. in 1909 and graduated Columbia University School of Architecture in 1915. By 33 years of age, he was designing groundbreaking apartment homes across New York City, especially on the Upper East Side. While most of his exteriors are modest affairs, individual residences were incredibly vast with layouts meant to graciously accommodate living habits of the day, and sightlines and exposures were meticulously calculated to capture sun and views.
Candela designed 10 apartment buildings along Park Avenue during this period; we’ve outlined a few of his most notable works below.
1105 Park Avenue (at 89th Street)
(Image: Park Avenue Historic District Designation Report (PDF), NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission)
Candela’s first Upper East Side commission, a 14-story Renaissance Revival building, features a modest brown-brick façade and rusticated limestone base. Designed for prominent builder Michael E. Paterno, the 1923 co-op is notable as being the first building in the neighborhood to include a penthouse — described as a seven-room “roof garden apartment” — a living situation that was just coming into vogue in the 1920s.
1172 Park Avenue (at 93rd Street)
A second collaboration with Michael E. Paterno in 1926 resulted in this 14-story apartment house noteworthy for its sprawling layouts with just 26 apartments boasting up to 12 rooms each. The original expansive homes were subsequently divided and recombined, numbering 51 units in 1965 and 46 today. One of the building’s most notable residents was Ira Levin, the author of some of the world’s best thrillers including “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Boys from Brazil” and “The Stepford Wives.”
740 Park Avenue (at 71st Street)
From the moment this Art Deco building opened in 1930, it has been home to some of the most illustrious last names in American history, including Guggenheim, Vanderbilt, Tisch and Koch. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. himself owned a 20,000-square-foot triplex in the building with 37 rooms, including a gymnasium. The 17-story building was named one of New York’s “Towers of Power” by New York Magazine and was the subject of an entire 2006 book “740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building.” More ornate than many of Candela’s buildings, 740 Park includes multiple setbacks decorated with floral elements, urns and ironwork.
770 and 778 Park Avenue (at 73rd Street)
778 Park Avenue (Image: The Real Deal)
Described as “fraternal twins,” these similar buildings flanking 73rd Street were created by Candela for two different developers, Edgar A. Levy and Charles Newmark. Though similar in height, the limestone and brick buildings offered markedly different accommodations: 770 was designed with 35 duplex apartments, while 778 offered full-floor homes. The apartment house at 770 was completed prior to the onset of the Great Depression, but 778 did not fare as well, enduring several delays and a 1931 foreclosure. Some 70 years later, economic instability would once again strike at 778 Park Avenue. Brooke Astor’s sprawling 14-room duplex on the 15th and 16th floors spent more than three years on the market after her 2007 death, finally selling for $21 million — less than half the initial $46 million price tag set just as the 2008 financial crisis hit.
778 Park Avenue was Rosario Candela’s last Park Avenue commission as work dropped off precipitously during the Depression years. During this time, he developed a keen interest in cryptography, published two books on the subject and taught a first-of-its kind course at Hunter College. Rosario Candela died in 1953 at the age of 63.